(page 2 of 3)
The wildlife alone would distinguish La Querencia. There are pumas that hunt in the bright lenga tree forests, wild horses, gray and red foxes, rare exotic birds, wild cows that adapted to the climate by growing long hair (“they climb mountains as if they were goats,” Gamarci says), and a bottomless lagoon teeming with blind fish — “in other words, fish with eyes, but they can’t use the optical nerve,” Gamarci explains. His layman’s theory is that the lagoon-dwelling fish lost their sight when ice covered the region 10,000 years ago. Word of the unusual lagoon eventually reached international nature circles, and members of the famous Cousteau family, among others, came to see it for themselves in 2003.
La Querencia is home to about 10 percent of the existing Andean condor population (only about 2,500 of these majestic creatures, the world’s largest bird of prey, are left in the wild). Four thousand guanacos — a camelid with wool finer than the best cashmere — roam the arid steppes of “the farm,” as Gamarci calls it, roughly the same number as in all of guanaco-rich Peru. Guanacos are said to be shy and impossible to domesticate, but Gamarci tells of one, a dark-eyed beauty named Manuela, who seemed quite civilized. “Every morning Manuela would come around to the farm, open the door to the kitchen with her mouth, push it with her chest, walk into the kitchen, take the cover off the sugar bowl, eat half of it — only half — and then walk out, every morning.”
Witnessing these natural marvels in so severe a landscape makes Gamarci smile. “We have pink flamingos. Believe it or not, we have parrots, green parrots. Strange, because we are right next to the Glacier National Park, with the largest concentration of ice in the Americas, second only to Greenland. Sometimes you get a photograph that has red grass, emerald green water on the lake, an intense blue iceberg floating in it, and on the other side of the lake, cliffs as red as Mars. It’s a fantasy land, almost. It really is a masterpiece of nature.”
Gamarci isn’t the only one who thinks so. When Sebastião Salgado, perhaps the most acclaimed living photographer, was seeking out remote wilderness for his ongoing “Genesis” project — an attempt to represent the world as it looked before the advent of man — he came to shoot at La Querencia. Salgado learned of Gamarci’s farm through Fauna and Flora International (FFI), a British-based group whose patron is the Queen. FFI regularly sends scientists to La Querencia to study endangered species, particularly the Andean condor, which prefers Gamarci’s land for roosting. “La Querencia is the ideal habitat — in topography, climate and food supply,” explains Mark Rose, FFI’s chief executive. “What’s so important is that Jorge is a responsible owner who saw the value in the property not just in a commercial sense, but in a conservation sense. He recognizes the unique nature of the property — the lenga forests, the condor population, and the other biodiversity that’s found on the ranch.”
Gamarci and FFI have begun a condor conservation project (hence the scientists), and it may well be this effort that saves the birds from extinction.
These days Gamarci spends what time he can at La Querencia, two weeks here, a month there, as his schedule permits. On the farm he is able to leave business behind and take up his role as a kind of gentleman conservationist. He spends days riding the range, either by horse or by all-terrain vehicle, checking roads, measuring precipitation, monitoring the condition of the wild cows and the other animals under his protection, visiting the condor nesting grounds. “Yes, they might seem like slow days, but it actually takes up a lot of time. There’s a lot of ground to cover.”
George Lee knows the land even better than his father does, having made week-long solo excursions to the farm’s remotest territory. “The scale of the place is pretty hard to comprehend. To this day, there are places I’ve never been to on our own property,” he says. “Every time I go out, I always see something that makes me sit back in amazement. The wildlife is truly extraordinary. I’ve run into wild horses that can knock your socks off. And when you see the condors flying overhead — I’ve seen thirty or forty at a time — they’re so enormous that you can actually hear the wind going over their wings. It’s a nature lover’s dream.”
Gamarci, who is sixty-four, was born the eldest son of a tax collector in northern Argentina. He spent some of his peripatetic youth living blocks away from the jungle, from monkeys and toucans and “snakes that weighed as much as a horse.” Apart from this unusual origin, his success story resembles that of many a Greenwich executive. He joined Lloyds Bank when he was twenty, worked insane hours, and eventually headed the bank’s North American operation from New York City. Later, Gamarci oversaw UBS’s investment banking interests in Latin America. In recent years he has turned to mining. At present he sits on the board of a large mining investment company and runs a small firm that hunts for (but does not extract) gold and uranium.
In 1978, fairly early in his thirty-year career at Lloyds, Gamarci moved to Greenwich with his wife, Elisea, and two young children, Juliet and George Lee. Today Jorge and Elisea live in a simple cream-colored house off Round Hill Road. Driving past the house on its ungated lot, one would never suspect that the man who lives there is quite possibly the greatest land owner in town. Nor does Gamarci himself give off the least whiff of self-importance. He is courtly and modest, a discreet talker. Only when a friend spilled the beans about Gamarci’s grand passion to Greenwich Magazine’s editor (which was how this article came into being) did he permit himself to expand on it.